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Insider: February 18, 2021 — Reply All, iHeartMedia and Triton Digital, Clubhouse Follow-up

OVERNIGHT: Amidst publishing a new mini-series called “The Test Kitchen” investigating the toxic workplace dynamics that led to implosion of Bon Appetit last year, Reply All is now going through a reckoning of its own.

Earlier this week, former staffer Eric Eddings published a Twitter thread laying out a series of accusing Sruthi Pinnamaneni, the show’s longtime senior reporter who is hosting the miniseries, and PJ Vogt, the podcast’s founding co-host, of contributing to a “toxic dynamic at Gimlet” that was “near identical” to the Bon Appétit culture depicted in the miniseries. The thread kicked up a firestorm on Twitter and drew considerable scrutiny to the show, particularly the way the team — or at least, the team’s leadership — handled the internal unionizing push within Gimlet Media prior to its acquisition by Spotify in early 2019.

All this laid down the foundation for what happened last night, when Gimlet managing director Lydia Polgreen circulated an internal email announcing that Pinnamaneni is stepping back from the miniseries immediately, while Vogt has asked to step back from his role on the podcast and take a leave of absence. Both Vogt and Pinnamaneni published apologies on Twitter last night.

I wrote about the news for Vulture, where you can find a little more detail. According to the internal email, “The Test Kitchen” was originally meant to be Pinnamaneni’s last story for Reply All before moving on to other projects at the company. It’s my understanding that this development was brought forward by Vogt and Pinnamaneni themselves, and I’ve since learned that Vogt’s departure from Reply All will be permanent. Reply All itself, however, is expected to continue production. The show currently has two other co-hosts: Alex Goldman and Emmanuel Dzotsi.

It’s unclear what happens to the rest of “The Test Kitchen” miniseries, though Polgreen’s email noted that plans are in place to discuss what comes next for that on-going project.

Full context on my end: I had been reporting out the accusations in Eddings’ Twitter thread for what would’ve been a deep dive — into the union push, into the broader Gimlet context  — prior to last night’s developments, and I think I’m going to keep doing that. I don’t expect to have much new or much of the broader picture done by next Tuesday’s newsletter, so I might just re-up this story with new details if and when those come up.

But know that that all is in process, and that it might take a bit.iHeartMedia to acquire Triton Digital from Scripps, reports the Wall Street Journal. The deal will reportedly go for around $230 million, which — speaking of Spotify — is the same price the Swedish audio streaming company paid for Gimlet Media, but slightly less than the $235 million it paid for Megaphone, which is the more comparable business.

If you need brushing up: Triton Digital is a digital audio measurement and advertising company that provides publishing clients with tools meant to better distribute and monetize their audio impressions, whether it’s through streams or podcast downloads. Stuff like: one-stop shop publishing, dynamic ad insertion, various claims towards more accurate audience measurement, and even a programmatic advertising marketplace called a2x.

You know, a consolidated podcast advertising platform, in other words.

Anyway, Triton Digital has had quite a journey: Scripps originally bought the Los Angeles-based company for $150 million from the private equity group Vector Capital in late 2018, which comes after a somewhat dicey period in which Triton Digital was nearly involved in a “reverse takeover” with Audioboom. In the summer of 2019, Scripps also acquired Omny Studios, the Australian podcast hosting platform, and added its capabilities to the Triton Digital stack. And now Triton Digital belongs to iHeartMedia, where it will presumably be leaned on to support iHeartMedia’s claims around its listening impressions and push to scale up its post-broadcast advertising business. Also, with this development, Scripps has officially exited the podcast business in full, completing a process started when Scripps sold Stitcher off to SiriusXM for $325 million last summer. I suppose Scripps took a look around at all the platform and M&A activity in podcasting over the past few years, felt like it’s a question whether they’re in a position to financially compete (while managing core businesses in local television and newspapers), and made the decision that it’s prudent to sell its podcasting assets off while the demand was high. And now they have a tidy return.

On the iHeartMedia front, the read seems pretty straightforward: iHeartMedia has made yet another splashy acquisition in its bid to beef up its podcast monetization architecture at a larger scale. It had previously bought Voxnest for much the same strategic reasons provided — i.e. to further build out a consolidated marketplace for podcast advertising, complete with programmatic marketplaces and all that — though that acquisition, which took place last October, was priced at around $50 million. All of which is to say, this isn’t a new slant for iHeartMedia, but a big, splashy, pricey deepening of an existing strategic angle that it was already pursuing.

Bigger picture read: seems like the future of podcast advertising is increasingly consolidation around a Big Three: Spotify, iHeartMedia, and SiriusXM.

Related notes…

  • You must’ve gotten the push notification yesterday about Rush Limbaugh’s death. Here’s the connection somewhat pertinent to this newsletter: Limbaugh was syndicated by Premiere Networks, a wholly owned subsidiary of iHeartMedia.

  • Meanwhile, Megaphone is rolling out more features.

Follow-up to Clubhouse. It took me a bit after Tuesday’s newsletter drop — which is typically when I scan back through the internet, reading and revisiting other takes on the same topics to see if I missed an angle I didn’t quite want to miss — to realize just what, exactly, has been annoying me about certain aspects of the Clubhouse-Podcast discourse, which, I assure you, is a Discourse. And it’s two related things.

The first thing is that there’s long been a duality in the way I think podcasting should be conceptually understood. On the one hand, there’s a framework that sees podcasts-as-the-future-of-blogging — which is a framework that lies in the roots of its creation – and then there’s the framework that sees podcasts-as-the-future-of-radio. In my estimation, those two frameworks coexisted in tension pretty much over the life of the podcast medium, and where we’re seeing this competition (or whatever you want to call it) between Clubhouse and podcasting, at least in conceptual thought, is competition purely on the front that sees podcast-as-the-future-of-blogging. Which is to say, the parts of the podcasting ethos that has to do with free flowing speech, as opposed to… I dunno, “productized” speech? (I’m feeling the limits of nomenclature here.) This is pretty much what I was trying to get at with respect to the part of my analysis in Tuesday’s column that the existence of Clubhouse and similar “live group audio” products is that it could lead to a more efficient distribution of digital audio experiences. Perhaps podcasting isn’t supposed to be a container for all the things, but only for some things.

The second thing is this: by clustering Clubhouse and podcasting within The Discourse in a way that solely equates the experiences of the latter with the former, there is a really inaccurate and gross devaluing of the labor that goes into many types of podcasting. There is a way in which a lot of this Clubhouse Discourse puts podcast producers in a position where they can feel their labor and skillset to be made small; the structural equivalent of that one celebrity saying of podcasting, “We record it and then poof, pow, surprise! It’s in your earholes the next day.”

Anyway, just so we’re clear: I’m not pessimistic about Clubhouse or that emerging category. I do believe there’s something genuinely interesting here, and that we are perhaps really on the edge of some new frontier in social media. To that end, the pieces about Clubhouse that have most captured my imagination are ones that try to interrogate its specific place in media theory — in particular, this Zeynep Tufekci piece in her newsletter, and Will Oremus’ analysis of Clubhouse as “anti-Twitter.”

More specificity, you know, would be nice, and is totally what’s needed.

Follow-up to Clubhouse. It took me a bit after Tuesday’s newsletter drop — which is typically when I scan back through the internet, reading and revisiting other takes on the same topics to see if I missed an angle I didn’t quite want to miss — to realize just what, exactly, has been annoying me about certain aspects of the Clubhouse-Podcast discourse, which, I assure you, is a Discourse. And it’s two related things.

The first thing is that there’s long been a duality in the way I think podcasting should be conceptually understood. On the one hand, there’s a framework that sees podcasts-as-the-future-of-blogging — which is a framework that lies in the roots of its creation – and then there’s the framework that sees podcasts-as-the-future-of-radio. In my estimation, those two frameworks coexisted in tension pretty much over the life of the podcast medium, and where we’re seeing this competition (or whatever you want to call it) between Clubhouse and podcasting, at least in conceptual thought, is competition purely on the front that sees podcast-as-the-future-of-blogging. Which is to say, the parts of the podcasting ethos that has to do with free flowing speech, as opposed to… I dunno, “productized” speech? (I’m feeling the limits of nomenclature here.) This is pretty much what I was trying to get at with respect to the part of my analysis in Tuesday’s column that the existence of Clubhouse and similar “live group audio” products is that it could lead to a more efficient distribution of digital audio experiences. Perhaps podcasting isn’t supposed to be a container for all the things, but only for some things.

The second thing is this: by clustering Clubhouse and podcasting within The Discourse in a way that solely equates the experiences of the latter with the former, there is a really inaccurate and gross devaluing of the labor that goes into many types of podcasting. There is a way in which a lot of this Clubhouse Discourse puts podcast producers in a position where they can feel their labor and skillset to be made small; the structural equivalent of that one celebrity saying of podcasting, “We record it and then poof, pow, surprise! It’s in your earholes the next day.”

Anyway, just so we’re clear: I’m not pessimistic about Clubhouse or that emerging category. I do believe there’s something genuinely interesting here, and that we are perhaps really on the edge of some new frontier in social media. To that end, the pieces about Clubhouse that have most captured my imagination are ones that try to interrogate its specific place in media theory — in particular, this Zeynep Tufekci piece in her newsletter, and Will Oremus’ analysis of Clubhouse as “anti-Twitter.”

More specificity, you know, would be nice, and is totally what’s needed.

Follow-up to Clubhouse. It took me a bit after Tuesday’s newsletter drop — which is typically when I scan back through the internet, reading and revisiting other takes on the same topics to see if I missed an angle I didn’t quite want to miss — to realize just what, exactly, has been annoying me about certain aspects of the Clubhouse-Podcast discourse, which, I assure you, is a Discourse. And it’s two related things.

The first thing is that there’s long been a duality in the way I think podcasting should be conceptually understood. On the one hand, there’s a framework that sees podcasts-as-the-future-of-blogging — which is a framework that lies in the roots of its creation – and then there’s the framework that sees podcasts-as-the-future-of-radio. In my estimation, those two frameworks coexisted in tension pretty much over the life of the podcast medium, and where we’re seeing this competition (or whatever you want to call it) between Clubhouse and podcasting, at least in conceptual thought, is competition purely on the front that sees podcast-as-the-future-of-blogging. Which is to say, the parts of the podcasting ethos that has to do with free flowing speech, as opposed to… I dunno, “productized” speech? (I’m feeling the limits of nomenclature here.) This is pretty much what I was trying to get at with respect to the part of my analysis in Tuesday’s column that the existence of Clubhouse and similar “live group audio” products is that it could lead to a more efficient distribution of digital audio experiences. Perhaps podcasting isn’t supposed to be a container for all the things, but only for some things.

The second thing is this: by clustering Clubhouse and podcasting within The Discourse in a way that solely equates the experiences of the latter with the former, there is a really inaccurate and gross devaluing of the labor that goes into many types of podcasting. There is a way in which a lot of this Clubhouse Discourse puts podcast producers in a position where they can feel their labor and skillset to be made small; the structural equivalent of that one celebrity saying of podcasting, “We record it and then poof, pow, surprise! It’s in your earholes the next day.”

Anyway, just so we’re clear: I’m not pessimistic about Clubhouse or that emerging category. I do believe there’s something genuinely interesting here, and that we are perhaps really on the edge of some new frontier in social media. To that end, the pieces about Clubhouse that have most captured my imagination are ones that try to interrogate its specific place in media theory — in particular, this Zeynep Tufekci piece in her newsletter, and Will Oremus’ analysis of Clubhouse as “anti-Twitter.”

More specificity, you know, would be nice, and is totally what’s needed.

Select Releases.

  • The New York Times is relaunching its Opinion roundtable podcast, The Argument, On February 24, with new host Jane Coaston.
  • NPR’s Embedded returns today with a new four-part series on the 2018 shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland.

Revolving Door.

  • Pushkin Industries announced two hires this week: Kerri Kolen as Editorial Director for Audiobooks, and Nicole Morano as Publicity Director. Kolen joins from Audible, where she was Executive Editor, while Morano joins from Penguin Random House Audio. The audiobooks space is getting increasingly complicated, isn’t it?

Got a new job? Tell me — would love to Let The People Know.